Long-tailed duck nest in the Arctic

Granite spires drew me to the Brooks Range, but finding the nest of a Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) on the banks of a remote lake in a stunning mountain valley was one of the highlights of a 3 week expedition to the most northern mountains in North America.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks construct their nest in a shallow depression on the ground that they line with their own down feathers. The coloration of these feathers is an important part of identifying the nest when the duck is gone. In this case it also helped that the only duck I saw on the entire trip was a pair of long-tails with a single juvenile following them around on the adjacent lake to the nest! Unfortunately it appeared that the remaining egg in the nest had failed to hatch.

Summers are very short in the arctic tundra and already by the end of July when we discovered the nest, fall was just around the corner in this remote part of Alaska. By the second week of August there was snow dusting the high peaks and the race was on for that young bird to amass the energy to begin a fall migration. 

 Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

Mountaineer Forest McBrian points to the Long-tailed duck nest we discovered on the banks of an alpine tundra lake in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

 Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

Like most ducks, Long-tailed ducks build their nests on the ground and line them with their own down feathers.

 A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.

A single failed egg remained in the Long-tailed duck nest. We observed the pair and a single juvenile in the nearby lake.

Pacific Wren Nests (formerly Winter Wren)

Like their unreasonably large and beautiful song, the Pacific wren (Troglodytes pacificus)  has a surprisingly elaborate nest. Abundant in forested landscapes around much of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific wren typically constructs its nest out of mosses and builds it into an existing structure such as a rootwad of a fallen tree or the hanging moss on the underside of a tree branch or leaning trunk. Nests are spherical with a small entrance on the side giving access to an enclosed chamber where eggs are laid. Occasionally nest are constructed in tree branches and appear as a spherical glob of moss. My bird nest mentor, Emily Gibson, who first introduced me to Pacific wren nests, noted that the entrance to their nests, in western Washington at least, typically are lined with tiny conifer twigs.

 A Pacific wren singing from a branch above its large spherical nest in a Sitka Spruce. Hoh river valley, Olympic National Park

A Pacific wren singing from a branch above its large spherical nest in a Sitka Spruce. Hoh river valley, Olympic National Park

 A Pacific wren peers out from the entrance at the side of its nest. Olympic National Park.

A Pacific wren peers out from the entrance at the side of its nest. Olympic National Park.

 Note the slender conifer twigs around the entrance to the nest.

Note the slender conifer twigs around the entrance to the nest.

 A Pacific wren with insects in its bill bound for young ones in a nearby nest. West slope Cascades, King County, Washington.

A Pacific wren with insects in its bill bound for young ones in a nearby nest. West slope Cascades, King County, Washington.

Similar Nests: Bushtits

 Two bushtits at the entrance to their nest in the Snoqualmie Valley in western Washington. Bushtits ( Psaltriparus minimus ), a similar sized bird found in much of the Pacific Northwest as well, also build enclosed nests out of mosses and lichens. Bushtit nests are more pendulous with an entrance towards the top of the nest.

Two bushtits at the entrance to their nest in the Snoqualmie Valley in western Washington. Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus), a similar sized bird found in much of the Pacific Northwest as well, also build enclosed nests out of mosses and lichens. Bushtit nests are more pendulous with an entrance towards the top of the nest.

Check out more photos of interesting tracks and signs of wildlife!

Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers

During several trips this winter to the shores of the Puget Sound where the Stillaguamish and Skagit rivers drain into the sea, I encountered two species of predatory birds sharing some remarkably similar hunting habits. The Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus)) and Northern harrier (Circus cyaneus) are both medium sized raptors. Of the two, the short-eared owl stands out as a bit of an oddity--being diurnal in its habits, unusual for owls, the rest of which are night hunters. The graceful and quavering flight patterns of both species are mesmerizing to watch.

Female Northern Harrier in flight. Puget Sound, Washington.

Female Northern harrier, perched. Puget Sound, Washington

Northern harriers fly low over grasslands and wetlands attempting to locate and surprise voles and other small mammals at close range.

Sharing the same fields and tidal marshes, Short-eared owls can also be found out during the day hunting small mammals and occasionally song birds.

Short-eared owl in flight. Puget Sound, Washington.

Short-eared owl, perched. Puget Sound, Washington

See more photos of these two species in my photography galleries.

Grand Canyon Wildlife, Birds, and Tracks

Wildlife and signs of wild animals abound along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The silty banks of the river hold the tracks of many species large and small while birds, from tiny canyon wrens to California Condors can be spotted on the water, in the brush or soaring above the canyon walls. Here is a little bit of what I found on my recent float trip down the river.

Animal Tracks in the Grand Canyon

Footprints of a wild animals were abundant along the banks of the Colorado river. Here are a bunch of wildlife tracks I took while on the river along with a few clues on how to tell what they are!

 Grand Canyon Birds

Though I am not much of a birder I amassed a species list of about 35 birds during my November-December trip down the Canyon. The abundance and diversity of birds definately increased towards the end of the trip. Here are a few I managed to snap a photo of.

 A great blue heron takes flight along the Colorado River. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

A great blue heron takes flight along the Colorado River. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 Ross’s x Snow goose hybrid. We saw a single pair on the river. They had probably stopped during their southern fall migration.

Ross’s x Snow goose hybrid. We saw a single pair on the river. They had probably stopped during their southern fall migration.

 Canyon Wrens were one of the most common birds to see or hear along much of the river. Their beatiful lyrical song echoeing off the canyon walls was one of the most amazing sounds on the river. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Canyon Wrens were one of the most common birds to see or hear along much of the river. Their beatiful lyrical song echoeing off the canyon walls was one of the most amazing sounds on the river. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 A common raven looks out from a perch on a sandstone ledge. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

A common raven looks out from a perch on a sandstone ledge. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 A first winter white-crowned sparrow. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

A first winter white-crowned sparrow. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 Rock wren. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Rock wren. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 Patience and careful observation revealed this ruby-crowned kinglet in the brush up a side canyon. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Patience and careful observation revealed this ruby-crowned kinglet in the brush up a side canyon. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

See more of my Bird Photography here!

Grand Canyon Mammals

While footprints revealed the presence of a great many more species of mammals than we actually had live sightings of our party saw bighorn sheep on several occasions and had some notable interactions with ringtails. Perhaps most unusual was the discovery of a ringtail in one of our party's tent when he retired for the evening!

 A bighorn sheep ram foraging along the shore of the Colorado River. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

A bighorn sheep ram foraging along the shore of the Colorado River. Grand Canyon, Arizona.

 A group of bighorn sheep ewes in Tuckup Canyon, a tributary to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

A group of bighorn sheep ewes in Tuckup Canyon, a tributary to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Check out more of my mammal photography here!